Getting to Know the Author: Joe Cosentino, Part 1
This is the first part of a two-part interview.
Where do your inspirations come from?
Since I was a professional actor and I am a current college theatre professor/department head, my ideas are generally quite theatrical. I become inspired by stimulating headlines in the news, exciting trips to romantic places, and especially wonderful childhood memories. For example, my sister and I as kids would grumble through the school year waiting for our annual summer trip to my aunt and uncle’s bungalow on the New Jersey shore. We swam and made sandcastles at the beach, waded in the bay, played miniature golf, ate salt water taffy, and jumped up and down on trampolines until we (literally) saw green. One day while walking alone, I found a cove, formed when softer rocks were worn away by the sun and salty water faster than the harder rocks surrounding them. This created a gorgeous bay of turquoise water shielded by large rocks in the distance and smaller rocks near the water’s edge. All those places and experiences are in my novels set in a fictitious place I call Cozzi Cove, a gay resort of eight bungalows in a private cove on the New Jersey Shore. Each bungalow is based on my aunt and uncle’s, and is furnished with hand-carved nautical furnishings, and has a stunning view of the bay and lighthouse in the distance. The main beach and boardwalk are only a mile away. It’s a place I love to visit in my head, and I know you will too.
When did you start writing?
My mother says I was telling stories in the womb—and it still hurts. Hah. As kids my sister and I wrote, directed, costumed, and starred in full scale musicals in our neighbor’s garage. Eventually I became an actor in film, television, and theatre, working opposite stars like Bruce Willis, Nathan Lane, Rosie O’Donnell, Holland Taylor, and Jason Robards. It occurred to me that acting is storytelling in the same way that writing is storytelling, so I decided to give writing a try. After writing some plays, I moved on to writing novels. My mother’s response was, “Don’t you have anything better to do than write novels?” Hm, I wonder if Shakespeare’s mother ever asked him that?
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?
I generally jump out of bed at about 3am with an amazing idea for a novel. To the consternation of my spouse, I jot notes on my nightstand. The next day I begin a biography for each character and eventually a plot summary. The first draft is a magical time between the characters and me. I show the second draft to my spouse for his notes. The third draft goes to the publisher. The fourth is after notes from the publisher’s editor.
Do you have a special time/place to write, or do you write whenever/wherever you can?
My readers complain that I write books faster than they can read them. Hah. Since I am a college professor/department head by day, I write every night and on most weekends. I have a beautiful cherry wood study with a fireplace, huge desk, bookcases, and window seat overlooking the woods. It’s the perfect serene writing environment, until my spouse comes in and asks me a question.
Do you write on a typewriter, computer, dictate or longhand?
Computer all the way. I type 90wpm, which comes in handy when the characters start talking in my head.
Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it?
On the contrary, I have so many ideas rolling around in my head, it’s hard to pick which to write next.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I wanted to be a star. And I am! Hah. Seriously though, we had no gay celebrity role models when I was kid. Things are much better now. However, I worry about teenagers at the malls looking at big studio movie poster after movie poster with no gay characters in them. That needs to change.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Just as I did improvisation as an actor, I recommend letting your characters talk to one another and seeing what happens! An outline is simply an outline. Don’t be afraid to deviate from it. When a reader finishes a book, he/she should be satisfied that the various parts equaled the whole, rather than the author pulling an ending out of the hat. Finally, don’t forget the humor! Think out of the box. Readers love shocks and surprises along the way.
What do you think makes a good story?
When you pick up a book, the story should sweep you away, making you captive inside the novel. I love it when readers tell me they started one of my books in the evening and finished when the sun came up. I also love a story where nothing is as it seems, and the ending is a jaw-dropper. Finally, while you can’t beat a good romance, I think it’s important for a story to also have a strong message. One that comes up in my books often is a call out against people who hide behind their “religious beliefs” to demean and try to take away the rights of others. Religious freedom means freedom to practice your religion, not to discriminate against others. And how much has your religion taught you if you can’t love and not judge others?